For the Actor

First production of Conversations in Cars Chris Bonno, Lys, Hal Sparks, Zach, Dane
First production of Conversations in Cars
Chris Bonno, Lys, Hal Sparks, Zach, Dane

Writers Group is quickly becoming Producers Group. We don’t want to just write things; we want to make them. We want to direct, produce, and above all, for most of us – we want to act. We’re starting with Conversations in Cars. Rather than explaining everything about it (partly because I’ve already touched on it in the past), I’d rather you just LIKE the page on fb. Yes, it’s exactly what it’s called – Conversations in Cars. Read more about it there.

We have actually shot two already. I couldn’t make it to the first one – Dane directed a short that Gena wrote called The Urn. I think I’ve mentioned Gena but maybe not. She’s Dane’s best friend and she’s big time. Seriously, she’s like a real-live working actor. You may have seen her in a few things that I’m not going to mention right now (except for Revenge…was ridiculously excited when I saw her in like, the greatest show ever). So she acted in our first Conversation in Cars. She’s awesome in it.

The second one was directed by Lys and written by her brother Zan, called Boys. Of the 20 or so scripts we went through, Boys was my favorite. Two guys in a car about to rob a bank. Really funny. We got two really good actors that some of the group already knew. They had great chemistry on screen.

So a while had gone by and now we are finally getting ready to shoot three shorts in one day. What?! Three in one day?! Madness. BUT two will be shot simultaneously and it’s really difficult to find the time when all of us can be there to help out. If we can all be there, let’s bang out as many as we can.

In order to do this, we need to hold a casting. For the first two, we used people we knew, and now it’s time to bring in people from outside of our circle. Dane is able to get us a room at CAZT. I’ve been to a few auditions here (a long time ago, I know), so it makes it even more exciting to be sitting on the other side of an audition. I get to watch people like me come in all nervous. Or not, maybe that’s just me.

Dane posted the casting Friday, and we’re holding the casting Thursday. That gives us a very short amount of time to rifle through all the actors and decide who we want to call in. This really opened my eyes. Because you don’t just post a casting notice and let any joe shmo come in. It would be a huge waste of time. So the actor sees the notice pop up and either he or his agent submit him for the role. Then we decide whether or not we want to ask him to come in.

Gena Shaw in The Urn
Gena Shaw in The Urn

First of all, I have a profile at CAZT. So I feel like I am in some way violating the privacy of all these actors I’m looking at. That’s another thing. If you have a reel attached to your profile, your name immediately goes to the top of the list, and there are about 300 actors who submitted for one role who have reels. Do you think I’m going to bother asking in any of the other actors who don’t have a reel? No chance. I’m not even considering them. Welp, I do not have a reel. Which means I’m pretty sure no casting director will consider me. So there’s that. Not that I didn’t know before that I needed a reel, but this just makes it feel so urgent. Besides that, some of the reels are AWFUL. I have not put together a reel with what I have right now because I didn’t think I had enough or the production value wasn’t high enough. Not so. Some of these reels look like shit. And some of the actors are just so bad. Like, why would you even put this out there? It’s embarrasing. Pretty sure I could post clips of me from the classic MWG production of Dumped, and get casting directors to invite me to an audition. Maybe I should just do that in the meantime. And still here I am, writing instead of doing. I’ve gotten off the main subject here.

OK, so, we are casting four roles. All guys. Ha, yes. Dane is so mad. He wants to cast a girl for something. And no, not because he thinks more women should be acting and getting lead roles (although he basically does think that). But for the casting, it probably will be more fun for me and Lys than it is for Dane and Zach. Probably. Definitely.

We are casting for Punch Bug, written by Lys. They already have a guy in mind they want, but just in case, we invite people in. We are casting for Noir. Mike and I wrote it together. (I’m not good with titles. It’s a film noir and I couldn’t think of anything I liked, so I just kept referring to it as Noir. So that is still it’s working title.) Two guys. Dane asked me to come up with descriptions of the roles for when we posted the casting. Um, OK. Older, rugged. Dane somehow makes me feel like I’m contributing when he changes it to, “Far too serious for his own good. Jon Hamm put through the ringer. Gravitas of a local news anchor. Voice of a radio personality.” Second guy, 20 years old, wiry; a smart ass. Then we are casting for Doug and Heather. Another great title, yes? So we need our Doug. This is even more exciting for me because I am playing Heather. I am not only looking at how good they are but how well I work with them. Here is what Dane came up with for Doug – “Clean cut, nice looking, affable but a little neurotic. Comedy and improv experience a must.”

So here we are at the casting. I’m surprised at how nervous I am. And slightly giddy. It’s amazing. We have a 2-hour block and all the actors are so good. Except for like two of them. A lot of this may have to do with the fact that most of them are SAG actors (another thing I am not). That’s because this is a SAG New Media project. I still don’t really know what that means but I love saying it. I do know that it means pay is deferred, which means the actor only gets paid if the short makes money, which means the actor is not going to get paid. Basically. But we still have the cream of the crop rolling through here.

Dane takes the lead on running the auditions. He introduces all of us to the actors when they walk in and kind of tells them where to sit and when to slate and all that. Lys is on camera, taping them so we can watch later, Zach is our main reader, and I’m calling the actors in. I read with all the Dougs, obviously. Dane will be directing Doug and Heather, so it’s important for him to see me with Doug. Not just the way we read together, but the way we look together and all that. It’s hard for me to really focus on their acting when I’m sitting side-by-side with them and reading my lines as well. Zach is reading with the Jeffreys for Punch Bug, because he also, will be the other person acting in that one.

Chris and Hal in Boys
Chris and Hal in Boys

I almost feel bad for Zach. In Punch Bug, these two guys are basically hitting each other the whole time. As soon as the actor sits down Zach tells him to give him a little punch in the arm before they get started. This way the actor knows he can actually get into it physically and not pretend to be hitting the air or something. Very nice of Zach to do that, I think. It really looks like he’s taking a beating some of these times. I can’t tell if the actor is really good or actually hurting Zach. It’s very loud when they’re auditioning for Punch Bug. And highly entertaining. I’m cracking up a lot of the times, sometimes just at Zach’s reaction to the actor. This one guy is AMAZING. He’s so animated and funny and he completely nails it.

Highlights – I love when the actor says my words the way I wanted it to be said. Especially when a lot of them aren’t doing it the way I want. On the other side of that, I love when they surprise me and say or do something in a way I didn’t think about when I wrote it. Generally, I just love hearing my words acted out. It’s a pretty cool thing. They come in with this script that they’ve been studying and it’s crazy to think about how long they’ve been reading it or practicing it. Your words.

As an actor, I am definitely less scared for auditions now. We are rooting for you to do well. We don’t want to watch people fail miserably. It’s just as awkward for us as it is for you. And for the guys who came in nervous and didn’t make eye contact, I was immediately turned off. Their audition could save them, but seriously, just come in as yourself and be friendly. It’s easy. Just kidding. It’s not easy. But next time I audition I will keep these things in mind.

After our two hours are up, I feel like celebrating my first casting! Zach suggests food and a beer. Anything “and a beer” sounds wonderful right now. But we’re not done yet. We have to actually pick who we want. And they have to actually be available.

*Mates of State

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